Theatre Review: White Pearl, Queensland Theatre

A satirical gem that skewers corporate politics and intra-cultural racism.

White Pearl is a witty theatre production directed by Priscilla Jackman that recreates the complexities of inter-Asian relations in the microcosm of the office of a beauty company: Clearday Cosmetics. Clearday’s flagship product is a skin-whitening cream, and its latest ad has gone viral for being racist against black people. The Singaporean company is in disarray, and its team members in a flap as they try to diffuse the media crisis before the US wakes up on the other side of the world.

Playwright Anchuli Felicia King’s perspective and experience are crucial for the success and credibility of this show. King is a Thai-Australian playwright and artist. As a person sitting on the hyphen of two cultures between the East and the West, King knows that authenticity is loaded. Class, education, accent, gender, and age weight the dice of identity politics.

The cast of White Pearl is almost exclusively female and Asian. Performances from the six young Asian-Australian actresses are engaging and entertaining. They convey the complexities of national belonging in a globalised world convincingly without succumbing to offensive stereotypes or overbearing politics.

Besides speaking  of the nuances of race, White Pearl also illuminates the new corporate culture of start-up companies. The stage design and costumes present a modern office space: hip bean bags accompany sleek white desks; and jeans, shirts and chains are acceptable work attire. This impeccably fashionable workspace complements the rhetoric of modern work culture about democratisation, sustainability and inclusion. But White Pearl reveals its underbelly of hierarchies, capitalist priorities, and racial razors.

In my eyes, (as a white Italian) shows like White Pearl that present an Asian experience in the international context are vital for the Australian artistic scene and civic sphere. Together with productions such as Single Asian Female and Disobedient Daughters, White Pearl offers funny and unapologetic insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by Asians living and contributing to a globalised world.

4 stars: ★★★★    

Queensland Theatre presents
White Pearl
A Sydney Theatre Company and Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta production
Writer: Anchuli Felicia King
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Designer: Jeremy Allen
Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper
Composer and Sound Designer: Michael Toisuta
Composer and Associate Sound Designer: Me-Lee Hay
Projection Designer: Anchuli Felicia King
Voice Coach: Amy Hume
Dramaturg: Courtney Stewart
Cast: Deborah An, Cheryl Ho, Mayu Iwasaki, Nicole Milinkovic, Matthew Pearce, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash and Lin Yin

Bille Brown Theatre, South Brisbane
17 June – 10 July 2021
Tickets: $65-$92
Additional performances: STC Wharf 2 (19 July – 4 Sept); Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (9 – 11 Sept); and Canberra Theatre Centre (15 – 18 Sept)

Federica Caso
About the Author
Federica Caso is a political analyst and writer. She has recently completed her PhD in International Politics at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the politics of aesthetics and art. She is interested in how art and culture are co-opted in systems of power and domination, and used as instruments of political resistance. She has written, hosted events, and facilitated discussions about the politics of aesthetics. She is a board member of House Conspiracy, an art centre located in West End, Brisbane.